Katharine met Guido Baracchi on a boat home to Melbourne in the last days of 1915. He was a rich socialist, a perpetual student, and a world-class charmer. They fell in love and his radical ideas and unfaithfulness added to the disquiet and turmoil of Katharine’s life from 1916 to 1918. Baracchi introduced Katharine to Karl Marx, among other thinkers, and in 1917 she enrolled as the first student of the very left-wing Victorian Labor College, where he lectured. It was a revelation to find among her papers an unsent letter to him where she sounds so vulnerable and present – a heartfelt scrap showing the richness of her inner life, when most of the papers from this time which have survived are so innocuous. Baracchi broke her heart one more time by suddenly marrying, at 2am, a pantomine chorister he had recently met. But it wasn’t until Baracchi was kicked out of the Communist Party for Trotskyism in about 1941 that she broke off contact with him. And yet, if you read The Red Witch, you will find there was a happy ending of sorts for Katharine and Guido. Guido’s full story is told in Jeff Sparrow’s excellent biography Communism: A Love Story.

The Red Witch is out on 17 May – https://www.mup.com.au/books/the-red-witch-hardback